Cutting Everything Everywhere All at Once, the film and the undertaking

Everything Everywhere All at Once won the 2023 Academy Award for “Best Picture,” among many other accolades. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, fondly known as the “Daniels,” the film is an eccentric multiverse sci-fi epic with a whole lot of heart. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American laundromat owner who just can’t seem to finish her taxes. Distributed by A24, the film raked in more than $140 million globally, becoming the company’s highest-grossing film.

To pull off the magic that is Everything Everywhere All at Once, the small but mighty post-production team had to navigate complex footage at varying frame rates and aspect ratios and cut challenging scenes teeming with visual effects—without ever physically working in the same room. They used Evercast to make it happen, and we asked post-production producer Carey Len Smith and assistant editors Zekun “Zoe” Mao and Aashish D’Mello to tell us all about it.

To start, I’d love to hear about your individual roles on the film.

Aashish D’Mello: I was one of the assistant editors on the movie—assisting from all angles, but primarily coordinating editorial with VFX and keeping track of all of the VFX involved in the edit.

Zekun “Zoe” Mao: I was the other assistant editor, primarily supporting [editor Paul Rogers] and [directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, aka “Daniels”] during editorial.

Carey Len Smith: And I was a post-production producer, so I supported everyone, but mostly Zoe, Aashish, and Paul.

What were some of the unique technical challenges that you faced on this project?

D’Mello: Being able to have everyone review footage in real time. Just keeping things in sync. Also, not transferring too much data back and forth because home internet speeds are not the greatest.

Mao: For me, it was making sure the timeline would play smoothly because our project was pretty big. It was a pretty intense playback. When lockdown first happened, we didn’t have Evercast yet, so Paul would edit a cut and export it, put it on, and then the Daniels would make notes, and Paul would address them. But once Evercast was used, they were able to hop on and cut together.

D’Mello: They were able to be much more specific rather than just leaving notes.

Mao: Yeah, Paul and the Daniels would just hop on Evercast and work through the whole day like that.

D’Mello: And if Paul wanted to show us something on the spot, he’d be like, “Hey, why don’t you guys hop into my Evercast and take a look?” It was just a very quick way for us to look at what Paul sent.

Smith: We had lots of footage, and Evercast allowed us to be together in one “room.” It allowed us to communicate. If we didn’t have it, we would have been dead in the water and it would have been transferring stuff back and forth. It helped out a lot.

Do you see a strong future for remote post-production?

Mao: I mean, I used Evercast to cut a feature while my director was in Taiwan while I was working on Everything, Everywhere. I told my team, “Hey, we should totally use this.” With Evercast, it doesn’t matter where your director is; you can cut anywhere. On my current show, the editor is in New York and my directors are [in Los Angeles], so they’re using Evercast every day. And on my previous show, there would be moments where directors or editors wanted to work from home for a couple of days, and Evercast just worked great.

So, not only is Evercast allowing you to work with a team in Taiwan that you ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with being here, but you’re also able to take on more work opportunities.

Mao: Yeah!

Smith: And working at home is beneficial because you can get so much done at so many different times. Evercast was a bridge that allowed us to talk instead of just emailing back and forth. So in all honesty, I would suggest that studios immediately have Evercast when they start shooting because it helps, especially if your editorial team is in another state.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this unique film’s success. What do you think resonated so much with audiences? And did you ever see it coming?

Mao: I did not see it coming. When I was syncing dailies and putting the footage together, I knew the ending was going to be great because everyone’s performances were amazing. It’s cheesy, but I do see the love on the screen, so I knew people would love it, but I didn’t know people would love it this much! I think it’s just the emotion that people needed in this crazy world. Just a little bit of love and a little bit of peace. I think that’s what people have been craving, and I think that’s what we gave them.

D’Mello: I did not see it coming! But I think it’s because the message is about human connection, and it came at the right time. It’s also got action, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry… it’s very well-rounded.

Smith: I had to read the script twice because I really didn’t get it the first time because of all of the jumping and stuff. But when I read it a second time and started seeing the dailies, I was like, “Oh, interesting!” But I’ll tell you, what got me was going to set and meeting [lead actress Michelle Yeoh] and watching her, then understanding the message. It’s basically a story about family and not listening—how other things can get into the roadway and cause delays. I thought to myself, “Okay, this is interesting.”

I’ve always been a fan of the Daniels since Swiss Army Man, so when the bond company called me and said, “Do you think we’re going to be okay money-wise?” I said, “Guys, if the Daniels were a stock on the stock exchange, I would invest highly” because they are so unique as filmmakers. They make you cringe and then they make you go, “Aww!” It’s their storytelling. And there’s something wonderful about that because they get you out of your comfort zone, and they just fill you with such love and hugs. Look at our movie! It was like the universe provided. We knew—at least, I knew—that we had something when we first watched it as an internal group. But I was also scared of the backlash from the pandemic and everything that was happening with the Asian population. I was worried that people wouldn’t like it. But man, I was happy to be wrong. And it couldn’t have happened to a better bunch of actors. I mean, I remember Ke Huy Quan as “Data” in The Goonies, and his first movie, Indiana Jones [and the Temple of Doom]. I’m just so happy for everyone. They really do deserve it. 

Now, I heard Paul say in his Oscars acceptance speech that this was his second feature film ever, and I read that some of the visual effects artists were pretty new to the game, too. Were there any ways that you guys specifically supported them on this venture?

Mao: This was the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on and the first thing I worked on too, so there was definitely that pressure. We just tried to figure out whatever we could without bothering other people. [VFX supervisor Zak Stolz] was not only the supervisor but also an artist, so a lot of the tracking fell to Aashish. And because Paul and the Daniels were all cutting, I was just making sure no sequence was lost—just maintaining and organizing.

D’Mello: Yeah, we were really lucky to have Zak as our VFX supervisor because he’s obsessed with keeping everything organized, and that was so important, especially in this case. The VFX team was learning from each other, borrowing from editorial, and then we were also learning from the VFX team, too. For example, we decided to use Resilio Sync to sync smaller files; we got that idea from VFX because that’s what Zak was using for their workflow. So we all came together and learned from each other.

Smith: Zoe and Aashish were the best assistant editors because they’re so good at what they do. They’ve got the technical mind and the creative mind. Honestly, my job was so easy. All I had to do was support them and communicate with everybody in the studio, and those guys just handled it. Honestly guys, I would go in the trenches with you again any day, anytime, anywhere.

D’Mello: Same here!

Mao: Me too. Everybody was really, really helpful. If I could take some of the pressure off Paul and the Daniels and help them do something, I would, so they wouldn’t have to focus so much on the technical stuff.

I can only imagine staying organized for this film specifically, because you have all of these different universes and you have to read these crazy slates! Can you speak to that a bit?

Smith: Do you remember the continuity, Aashish?

D’Mello: Oh my God, yeah.

Mao: There were also multiple shooting rates and multiple aspect frame ratios. At the beginning when the footage came in, obviously we organized by scene. But I quickly realized that was not helpful, so I started putting them in chunks, you know, a couple of scenes together. Then towards the end, we were organizing things by universe. I think Aashish may know the universes better than the scene numbers: “the fanny pack fight,” or “the rock universe,” or “the second laundromat universe.” It was all coded in our own unique way.

D’Mello: Yeah, we had our own shorthand for it that nobody else would understand.

That is a huge feat—such a balance of creative and technical. What would you say was the most challenging scene to work on?

D’Mello: Oh, for me, it was the scene where we see Evelyn’s face flashing across hundreds of universes. Right before the rock universe is this crazy montage that had so many different backgrounds. We had stock footage backgrounds from Getty and stuff, and the VFX artists created their own backgrounds and their own mockups of Evelyn’s face and things like that—just really funny, random stuff. But some of the shots were a frame or two long, and they were constantly changing. So we had to keep track of what was going on there from an organizational standpoint, but we also had to do kind of a backwards color process. We had to get some plates colored first and then bring them back for the edit.

Mao: For me, it was the butt plug fight to the drummer fight to the dog fight: those three fights all connected were very, very challenging because it was the longest fight sequence we had and there were a crazy number of speed rampings, speed changes, remapping everything, resizing everything… they were very heavy on effects. And we had multiple versions of it. I think Paul cut a version, Kwan cut a version, and I think the final sequence was a bit of everybody’s work, so to keep track was really hard.

And then there was the challenge of all the different frame rates. For example, the very end when Evelyn is chasing the raccoon, I think we shot three different frame rates because we didn’t know which one we were going to want to use. Even within the scene, two different cameras had different frame rates. Camera A might have been 60fps, camera B might have been 96fps, so it was across the board all sorts of crazy.

Smith: The best thing was going through QC with all of the frame rates and aspect ratios. That was fun.

Mao: We also did our own subtitles! The subtitles were done by me and Aashish, so when we were turning it over to color, we were not only giving them VFX, color, and DI stuff, but we had to give them subtitles, too.

D’Mello: Yeah, so the subtitles you see in the movie are from editorial. They weren’t created by a graphic artist or anything.

Mao: We literally just did them in Photoshop.

And you helped with the translations too, right?

Mao: [Actor Ke Huy Quan’s] wife, Echo, did the actual translations because the script was written in English. Echo did all of the translations on set for Ke, for Michelle Yeoh, and for [James Hong, who played the character] “Gong Gong,”  whenever they needed to speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. And when the footage got to editorial and I was syncing the sound, I would put English subtitles up for Paul, and I would also tell him, “Hey, I know this performance was really good, but they didn’t say the line very well, so if you really want to use it, we may need to ADR it. So I would just subtitle it across the dailies when I was prepping for Paul. And then when we had to cut together, most of the subtitles were already up there. There was one subtitle that was sent to VFX actually.

D’Mello: Yeah, when she’s split between two universes, one in the closet and one in the IRS building. That was the only visual effect that was on a subtitle because it’s split across the subtitle as well.

Smith: That’s one thing I will say about this team: they are very insular. I mean, everybody that worked on this was either friends or people who were hired by their friends, and in order to take that bunch of money and make what they did, it’s such a tutorial for filmmakers. You don’t need to do a tentpole movie. I mean, we didn’t spend that much, and look what we got!

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